By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Apr 7, 2023) US Soccer Players – In December of 2021, New York City Football Club raised the MLS Cup trophy in Portland. The victory delivered the league championship to a club based in the country’s biggest city and backed by an immense global soccer concern. That 2021 NYCFC squad featured several players very much in the developmental phase of their careers. Two seasons after that title, a very different NYCFC team is trying to get back to the promised land.
Last year, the club’s run for a repeat ended in the Eastern Conference final, showing that the organization can navigate change. As April arrives and the 2023 season is more than a month old, the club is making roster moves. Last week, NYCFC sent forward Thiago Andrade out on loan to Athletico Paranaense of Brazil that opens up a U22 initiative slot. Whatever the club does with that, it has already added a familiar face and a new one to the group chasing a title this season.
“I think recruitment is an ongoing process,” head coach Nick Cushing said following the 1-1 draw at New England on April 1. “You see it with guys going and guys coming. My focus is the team. Whether it is guys on the pitch or guys on the bench. I think you saw tonight a team that dictated large parts of the game, and then we made five substitutions and they improved us. We have had that two or three times this season and it is so pleasing.”
James Sands, a versatile performer who played a key role in the championship season of 2021, returned from a loan to Scottish giant Rangers. A product of the NYCFC academy and a US international, Sands rejoins NYCFC as a proven high-level player with championship experience.
Sands’s return to New York went official just ahead of matchday 2 in early March. He’s started every game since, four times in midfield and once as a center back, already exhibiting his usefulness in whatever area of the field Cushing needs him.
The new face in New York is Richy Ledezma, joining on loan from PSV Eindhoven of the Eredivisie on March 24. The move required trading allocation money and a draft pick to Real Salt Lake for New York to acquire Ledezma, an indication of just how strong NYCFC’s interest was.
Ledezma joined the Real Salt Lake academy out of Arizona in 2016 and played for Real Monarchs, then part of the USL, before leaving for the Netherlands. Ledezma is also a veteran of the USYNT and earned a cap for the senior national team in November 2020. As an attacker who can play both wide and centrally, Ledezma gives Cushing another option alongside Matias Pellegrini, Gabriel Pereira, and Designated Player playmaker Santiago Rodriguez.
Since arriving from Europe, Ledezma has made two substitute appearances on the right wing. Against New England last Saturday, Ledezma completed 90% of his passes and created a chance in 23 minutes on the field.
NYCFC is now something of a proving ground for talented Americans who spent time in Europe. Keaton Parks played for four years in Portugal before arriving in New York in 2019 and emerged as a top two-way midfielder in MLS. The club also acquired former USYNT forward Gabe Segal in January after he spent a season in Germany with FC Koln II.
Segal made his NYCFC debut as a starter against New England and earned praise from Cushing for his industry and ability to hold up the ball. An emergent Segal should allow Talles Magno, the club’s most productive attacking player last year and one of their three Designated Players, to return to a wing position better suited to his talents.
MLS recruitment philosophies evolve and shift, and NYCFC is no exception. With so much of its MLS Cup-winning talent departed for other opportunities, the club has leveraged every advantage available to fill in the gaps left behind. That means looking for help in places new and old while working within the MLS salary budget rules. It makes the business of staying in the chase for championships incredibly difficult.
For NYCFC, change is inevitable. How it navigates change in this moment will determine if the club will be fighting for an MLS Cup seven long months from now.
More From Jason Davis:
- San Jose and Houston increase the difficulty in the Western Conference
- It’s a compelling April for MLS, the USMNT, and Americans in Europe
- Eredivisie experience showed in the USMNT’s March wins
- League A and beyond in the Concacaf Nations League
Photo by Burt Granofsky – CSM via ZUMA Press Wire – ISIPhotos.com